The Food Gal® and I recently subscribed to Milk Street – Christopher Kimball’s new food and cooking ‘zine. As an old Kimball fan, I’ve plowed through more issues of Cooks Illustrated than I can count, and still consider his old “America’s Test Kitchen” show to be the definitive television cooking show. Kimball’s Milk Street show on PBS recently debuted, and I’m sure that it will be every bit as good as his old enterprise.
Milk Street is very 21st Century in its sensibilities. Instead of the “perfect meatloaf” and “how to make a pie crust” articles of decades past, it is chock full of foreign foods and travel tidbits. There are also quite a few recipes for things like Peruvian ceviche, Indian curries and southeast Asian soups. All of which got our staff to wondering: What recipes are best left to the professionals, i.e., when are you biting off more than you can chew when you try to cook something at home that is always better in a restaurant?
The following lists are by no means definitive, but after 50 years of restaurant-going, and 40 years of serious home cooking, I’m a pretty good judge of when a recipe (or a type of food) is a waste of time for anyone but those who immerse themselves in it daily. These should give you a good start on what to avoid trying, even if a pro like Chris Kimball is doing the teaching. No offense to him (or avid home cooks everywhere), but no matter how hard you try, the best you can hope for is a distant approximation of what the pros turn out daily:
LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS:
Bread (unless you bake all the time)
Vietnamese food (unless you’re Vietnamese)
Korean food (unless you’re Korean)
Chinese food (Take it from someone who spent the 80s cooking his way through a number of Chinese cookbooks.)
Indian food (unless you’re Indian and have a larder the size of ELV’s ego)
French food (Even simple French food has more steps than a Fred Astaire movie.)
Barbecue (unless you have the tools and the patience of Job)
Mexican street food (sophisticated Mexican food is another animal entirely)
Steaks (Although the best steakhouses always get the best beef, and they use higher heat, to get a better Maillard reaction than you can.)
Soup (Except ramen, pho and any number of other Asian noodle soups. NEVER try to make these at home. You will never master them so don’t even try.)
Stews of any kind
Rack of lamb
Filets of fish
Fruit (Fruit is its own best friend in the kitchen. You can get away with anything when you’re using good, ripe fruit.)
Home cooking is like any other skill: you have to do it all the time to be any good at it. Milk Street is a great place to learn, but never forget that your cooking reach should never exceed your cooking grasp.
ELV — the man, the myth, the galloping gastronomic gourmand — doesn’t usually bother with such trifles as New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that he’s above trying to improve himself, but more like he doesn’t enjoy setting himself up for failure.
But 2015 will be different. For once, we intend to do something to benefit our mind, our spirit, and the friends and family around us: we’re going to cook for them.
On a semi-regular basis.
Most of you don’t know this, but for over twenty years our dinner parties were legendary in three states: Kentucky, Connecticut and Nevada. Sometime around a dozen years ago — when both Vegas’s food scene and our food writing took off — we started dialing back our cooking to focus more on restaurants and writing about them. (When you’re eating over 400 restaurant meals/year (1998-2012), the only thing more daunting than cooking dinner for yourself is what to do with the refrigerator full of restaurant leftovers you’re always saddled with.)